It's early on a snowy Saturday in December and, as you read this, the gym is beginning to fill up with the usual crowd. Some are here to work out on their own, some for fitness classes, and others for group or personal training. Participants for my group training class are beginning to file in, some with a slightly glazed-over look in their eyes.
And who can blame them? It's early, cold, and they have paid someone to build a workout plan for them. They are the greatest people in the world, but even the greats sometimes need to be reminded they are never allowed to be passive during a workout. They didn't pay me so they could be mindless, and whether it's a hamster on a hamster wheel, or a gym full of 6 a.m. cardio-zombies, many analogies have been made to equate the everyday gym member to a mindless drone. It is the unfortunate truth and also a truly limiting training fault.
Life is busy and requires so much thought and brain power that the majority of gym-goers looks forward to turning themselves off at the gym; if that's your exercise goal -- great! But whether or not we admit it, most of us have a specific training goal, something we want to improve, and we won't be happy until we've achieved it. Being mindful during your time in the gym can be the difference between exercising and training, and there is a difference. The word 'exercise' implies activity without a long-term plan; a single workout to burn calories, to become really tired or to get a great pump. Training implies activity with progression and a long-term goal in mind. So decide whether you're in the gym to exercise or to train.
I'm glad you chose training.
Whether working alone or with a trainer, it's imperative you assess the big picture of your training. Take a step back and analyze what your goals are and how you are going to be able to stay focused on them as you progress through your training. Consider this a type of meta-mindfulness, and a good personal trainer will help you with this and push you to do it often.
The harder part of the process -- let's call it micro-mindfulness -- is during each workout, and this is unfortunately something many (good) personal trainers forget. As trainers, we program like crazy, bombard you with technical corrections and motivate you to push harder. Through all this, we regularly forget to remind you why you are performing the exercise or movement and how it affects the overall training picture. If you fail to realize this effect in both the long and short term, you limit your training potential. The body and mind need to be constantly reminded of the relationship for this to occur. For instance, you need to be "mindful" of how doing a one-arm cable press is going to help you shovel your driveway better. Focus on what muscles are (or should be) being used and commit to memory how this will help you outside the gym. This will also enable the muscles on which you are focusing to contract completely.
The result of all this extra focus while in the gym is an unbelievable advantage when it comes to athlete training as well as the general population, but is so often neglected because we all take for granted it just happens. We all know this to be false. We know if we want something to work, we need to be present and focused. Time and effort in the gym will appoint change -- in the short term. Concentration and mindfulness will achieve results -- forever.
Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and personal trainer.